Web firms should be responsible

Last week marked a key anniversary in the history of the modern world.

Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 7:43 am
Updated Wednesday, 20th March 2019, 8:48 am
Blaise Tapp

It was widely observed by beard-stroking deep thinkers who listen to Radio 4 around the clock but did you celebrate it?

You should’ve done as this particular date marked the invention of something which has changed the lives of the vast majority of us, 30 years since the idea for the world wide web was conceived.

As we know all too well, the man responsible for this generation defining innovation is Sir Tim Berners-Lee and he is somebody who everybody should be personally thanking for the difference he has made to our lives.

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While he is rightly lauded for the genius of his achievements, he is also acutely aware of the unintended consequences of his efforts.

Last week, he told reporters that, as well as giving “marginalised groups a voice” and generally making our lives easier, the web had also enabled the “spread of hatred” and made “all sorts of crime easier to commit”. He is also working on a solution to the problem of companies using our precious data how they please.

He says there is lots of work to be done before all of these problems can be fixed but believes one solution is for users to agree a contract, effectively establishing global online laws and standards. Who can argue with him? The web has long been described as a digital Wild West and, although there is some regulation, it does appear anything goes.

Last week the world bore witness to the horrors of the Christchurch terror attacks, which were broadcast on social media by the perpetrator. If that was not horrific enough, thousands upon thousands of social media users thought it perfectly okay to share footage of murder on their timelines. While these platforms did remove this footage, it was still reasonably easy to find later in the day.

Big tech companies are hives of innovation and home to some of the brightest minds on the planet but can only play catch-up in situations such as the aftermath of the horrors in New Zealand.

It doesn’t really make any sense to this particular social media user.